What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: DimXpert

We quickly browsed through several model-based definition (MBD) enhancements such as dimensioning to reference geometries and defining drafted parts in a previous article, “What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: MBD.” However, there are many other new features not yet covered. In this article, let’s continue to look into several more examples regarding the DimXpert tool along with their practical benefits.

3D product and manufacturing information (PMI) definition is the foundation of model-based processes. One of the 3D dimensioning tools in SOLIDWORKS is DimXpert. Traditionally, this tool focused on defining features, so it requires a mentality of thinking in 3D that takes some ramp-up time, especially for most engineers who are used to 2D drawing practices. SOLIDWORKS MBD 2017 added several new enhancements to provide better flexibility and ease this transition from 2D drawing to MBD.

For example, in 2D drawings, dimensions are often derived from and anchored at edges that are very easy to select. In 3D PMI definition, many engineers have been looking for the ease of edge selections. In response, the MBD 2016 release first enabled the single edge selection as discussed in this article, “Design for Manufacturing: How to Define Features Directly.” Now in the latest 2017 release, this ease of selection has been expanded to multiple edges, similar to 2D drawing conventions as shown in the animation in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Dimension to multiple edges similar to 2D drawings.

This way, you don’t have to rotate and zoom the model constantly to select the desired features. Based on the selected edges, the software now intelligently infers the most probable features indicated by the edges and then presents the callout. Please don’t underestimate this seemingly tiny feature. It not only caters to daily job practices to ease the transition towards MBD, but also leverages the advantages of 3D feature definitions to pave the path for downstream manufacturing activities.

Another example to ease the transition is basic dimensions. DimXpert didn’t provide a manual basic dimension command initially because a 3D model itself is basic. If needed, basic dimensions can still be created automatically for geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) feature control frames as discussed in article, “Tips and Tricks for Dimensioning and Managing Hole Callouts with MBD.” However, in MBD implementations, many engineers challenged this approach because 2D drawings can add basic dimensions very easily. Now in MBD 2017, you can add a basic size dimension manually as shown in the animation in Figure 2. This new feature is a follow-up after the manual basic location dimension feature in the MBD 2016 release.


Figure 2. Manual basic size dimension.

Besides easing the transition from 2D drawings to MBD, the new release also enhanced the DimXpert auto dimension tool to make 3D PMI definition more productive. One example is to pick existing datum symbols in the auto dimension scheme as shown in the animation in Figure 3.


Figure 3. Select existing datum symbols in the auto dimension scheme.

In the previous releases, every time you launched the auto dimension scheme command, you also had to reselect the datum features, even if these features had been assigned with datum symbols. This compromised the purpose of the symbols because they are called out explicitly to represent datum features in the first place. This also made the selection more difficult and more time consuming. Now with this new 2017 feature, the problem was addressed.

The auto dimension scheme had another gap in the previous releases when defining polar dimensions, which are often used to specify circular hole patterns. The polar dimension option was only available in the plus and minus tolerance type, not in the geometric tolerance type. Now this gap has been filled in MBD 2017 as shown in the animation in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Define the circular hole pattern diameter and distribution angle using the geometric tolerance type in an auto dimension command.

We touched upon the enhanced support to define drafted parts in a previous article. This can be very helpful for casted and forged products where draft angles are often used for easier separation between a part and its mold.

Another frequent use case is that drafted cylinders (holes or shafts) can be used to support tapered bearings or gear holes, where these conical surfaces are referenced as datum features. Unfortunately, cones weren’t recognized in DimXpert datum feature definitions in the previous releases. Now this gap is closed. You can define a drafted cylinder, or a conical surface, as a datum feature in the MBD 2017 release as shown in Figure 5. Please note the draft angle and the opening diameter of the highlighted datum feature B. This enhancement works for both manual and auto dimension commands.


Figure 5. Reference a conical hole as a datum feature.

Overall, there have been many seemingly small but handy and delightful enhancements in the MBD 2017 release. It made solid progress in filling the functionality gaps between 2D drawings and MBD. Table 1 summarizes the new DimXpert features and benefits.

Table 1. New DimXpert features and benefits.

New features Benefits
Dimension to multiple edges Eases the transition from 2D drawings to MBD. Reduces the model rotation and zooming. Paves the path for downstream intelligent manufacturing applications.
Create basic size dimensions manually Eases the transition from 2D drawings to MBD. Creates basic dimension with better flexibility.
Select existing datum symbols in an auto dimension command Helps with the selection of symbols for representing features in an auto dimension command.
Define polar dimensions for the geometric tolerance type in an auto dimension command Defines circular hole pattern diameters and distribution angles for the geometric tolerance type. Fills a functionality gap.
Define conical surfaces as datum features Defines tapered parts more easily and supports GD&T better. Fills a functionality gap.

To learn more about how this new release can help you with your MBD implementations, please visit the SOLIDWORKS 2017 launch site.

About the Author

Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS MBD product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise (MBE) and smart manufacturing.  

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